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Mary The Queen Dauphiness The Queen And The Queen Dowager Of France

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An Examination Of The Letters Sonnets And Other Writings Adduced In Evidence Against Mary Queen Of Scots

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The Key Of The Cipher








Where is the man who does not persuade himself that when he gratifies
his own curiosity he does so for the sake of his womankind? So Richard
Talbot, having made his protest, waited two days, but when next he had
any leisure moments before him, on a Sunday evening, he said to his
wife, "Sue, what hast thou done with that scroll of Cissy's? I trow
thou wilt not rest till thou art convinced it is but some lying
horoscope or Popish charm."

Susan had in truth been resting in perfect quietness, being extremely
busy over her spinning, so as to be ready for the weaver who came round
periodically to direct the more artistic portions of domestic work.
However, she joyfully produced the scroll from the depths of the casket
where she kept her chief treasures, and her spindle often paused in its
dance as she watched her husband over it, with his elbows on the table
and his hands in his hair, from whence he only removed them now and
then to set down a letter or two by way of experiment. She had to be
patient, for she heard nothing that night but that he believed it was
French, that the father of deceits himself might be puzzled with the
thing, and that she might as well ask him for his head at once as
propose his consulting Master Francis.

The next night he unfolded it with many a groan, and would say nothing
at all; but he sat up late and waked in early dawn to pore over it
again, and on the third day of study he uttered a loud exclamation of
dismay, but he ordered Susan off to bed in the midst, and did not utter
anything but a perplexed groan or two when he followed her much later.

It was not till the next night that she heard anything, and then, in
the darkness, he began, "Susan, thou art a good wife and a discreet
woman."

Perhaps her heart leapt as she thought to herself, "At last it is
coming, I knew it would!" but she only made some innocent note of
attention.

"Thou hast asked no questions, nor tried to pry into this unhappy
mystery," he went on.

"I knew you would tell me what was fit for me to hear," she replied.

"Fit! It is fit for no one to hear! Yet I needs must take counsel
with thee, and thou hast shown thou canst keep a close mouth so far."

"Concerns it our Cissy, husband?"

"Ay does it Our Cissy, indeed! What wouldst say, Sue, to hear she was
daughter to the lady yonder."

"To the Queen of Scots?"

"Hush! hush!" fairly grasping her to hinder the words from being
uttered above her breath.

"And her father?"

"That villain, Bothwell, of course. Poor lassie, she is ill fathered!"

"You may say so. Is it in the scroll?"

"Ay! so far as I can unravel it; but besides the cipher no doubt much
was left for the poor woman to tell that was lost in the wreck."

And he went on to explain that the scroll was a letter to the Abbess of
Soissons, who was aunt to Queen Mary, as was well known, since an open
correspondence was kept up through the French ambassador. This letter
said that "our trusty Alison Hepburn" would tell how in secrecy and
distress Queen Mary had given birth to this poor child in Lochleven,
and how she had been conveyed across the lake while only a few hours
old, after being hastily baptized by the name of Bride, one of the
patron saints of Scotland. She had been nursed in a cottage for a few
weeks till the Queen had made her first vain attempt to escape, after
which Mary had decided on sending her with her nurse to Dumbarton
Castle, whence Lord Flemyng would despatch her to France. The Abbess
was implored to shelter her, in complete ignorance of her birth, until
such time as her mother should resume her liberty and her throne. "Or
if," the poor Queen said, "I perish in the hands of my enemies, you
will deal with her as my uncles of Guise and Lorraine think fit, since,
should her unhappy little brother die in the rude hands of yonder
traitors, she may bring the true faith back to both realms."

"Ah!" cried Susan, with a sudden gasp of dismay, as she bethought her
that the child was indeed heiress to both realms after the young King
of Scots. "But has there been no quest after her? Do they deem her
lost?"

"No doubt they do. Either all hands were lost in the Bride of Dunbar,
or if any of the crew escaped, they would report the loss of nurse and
child. The few who know that the little one was born believe her to
have perished. None will ever ask for her. They deem that she has
been at the bottom of the sea these twelve years or more."

"And you would still keep the knowledge to ourselves?" asked his wife,
in a tone of relief.

"I would I knew it not myself!" sighed Richard. "Would that I could
blot it out of my mind."

"It were far happier for the poor maid herself to remain no one's child
but ours," said Susan.

"In sooth it is! A drop of royal blood is in these days a mere drop of
poison to them that have the ill luck to inherit it. As my lord said
the other day, it brings the headsman's axe after it."

"And our boy Humfrey calls himself contracted to her!"

"So long as we let the secret die with us that can do her no ill.
Happily the wench favours not her mother, save sometimes in a certain
lordly carriage of the head and shoulders. She is like enough to some
of the Scots retinue to make me think she must take her face from her
father, the villain, who, someone told me, was beetle-browed and
swarthy."

"Lives he still?"

"So 'tis thought, but somewhere in prison in the north. There have
been no tidings of his death; but my Lady Queen, you'll remember,
treats the marriage as nought, and has made offer of herself for the
misfortune of the Duke of Norfolk, ay, and of this Don John, and I know
not whom besides."

"She would not have done that had she known that our Cis was alive."

"Mayhap she would, mayhap not. I believe myself she would do anything
short of disowning her Popery to get out of prison; but as matters
stand I doubt me whether Cis--"

"The Lady Bride Hepburn," suggested Susan.

"Pshaw, poor child, I misdoubt me whether they would own her claim even
to that name."

"And they might put her in prison if they did," said Susan.

"They would be sure to do so, sooner or later. Here has my lord been
recounting in his trouble about my lady's fine match for her Bess, all
that hath come of mating with royal blood, the very least disaster
being poor Lady Mary Grey's! Kept in ward for life! It is a cruel
matter. I would that I had known the cipher at first. Then she might
either have been disposed of at the Queen's will, or have been sent
safe to this nunnery at Soissons."

"To be bred a Papist! Oh fie, husband!"

"And to breed dissension in the kingdoms!" added her husband. "It is
best so far for the poor maiden herself to have thy tender hand over
her than that of any queen or abbess of them all."

"Shall we then keep all things as they are, and lock this knowledge in
our own hearts?" asked Susan hopefully.

"To that am I mightily inclined," said Richard. "Were it blazed abroad
at once, thou and I might be made out guilty of I know not what for
concealing it; and as to the maiden, she would either be put in close
ward with her mother, or, what would be more likely, had up to court to
be watched, and flouted, and spied upon, as were the two poor
ladies--sisters to the Lady Jane--ere they made their lot hopeless by
marrying. Nay, I have seen those who told me that poor Lady Katherine
was scarce worse bested in the Tower than she was while at court."

"My poor Cis! No, no! The only cause for which I could bear to yield
her up would be the thought that she would bring comfort to the heart
of the poor captive mother who hath the best right to her."

"Forsooth! I suspect her poor captive mother would scarce be pleased
to find this witness to her ill-advised marriage in existence."

"Nor would she be permitted to be with her."

"Assuredly not. Moreover, what could she do with the poor child?"

"Rear her in Popery," exclaimed Susan, to whom the word was terrible.

"Yea, and make her hand secure as the bait to some foreign prince or
some English traitor, who would fain overthrow Queen and Church."

Susan shuddered. "Oh yes! let us keep the poor child to ourselves. I
could not give her up to such a lot as that. And it might imperil
you too, my husband. I should like to get up instantly and burn the
scroll."

"I doubt me whether that were expedient," said Richard. "Suppose it
were in the course of providence that the young King of Scots should
not live, then would this maid be the means of uniting the two kingdoms
in the true and Reformed faith! Heaven forefend that he should be cut
off, but meseemeth that we have no right to destroy the evidence that
may one day be a precious thing to the kingdom at large."

"No chance eye could read it even were it discovered?" said Susan.

"No, indeed. Thou knowest how I strove in vain to read it at first,
and even now, when Frank Talbot unwittingly gave me the key, it was
days before I could fully read it. It will tell no tales, sweet wife,
that can prejudice any one, so we will let it be, even with the baby
clouts. So now to sleep, with no more thoughts on the matter."

That was easy to say, but Susan lay awake long, pondering over the
wonder, and only slept to dream strange dreams of queens and
princesses, ay, and worse, for she finally awoke with a scream,
thinking her husband was on the scaffold, and that Humfrey and Cis were
walking up the ladder, hand in hand with their necks bared, to follow
him!

There was no need to bid her hold her tongue. She regarded the secret
with dread and horror, and a sense of something amiss which she could
not quite define, though she told herself she was only acting in
obedience to her husband, and indeed her judgment went along with his.

Often she looked at the unconscious Cis, studying whether the child's
parentage could be detected in her features. But she gave promise of
being of larger frame than her mother, who had the fine limbs and
contour of her Lorraine ancestry, whereas Cis did, as Richard said,
seem to have the sturdy outlines of the Borderer race from whom her
father came. She was round-faced too, and sunburnt, with deep gray
eyes under black straight brows, capable of frowning heavily. She did
not look likely ever to be the fascinating beauty which all declared
her mother to be--though those who saw the captive at Sheffield,
believed the charm to be more in indefinable grace than in actual
features,--in a certain wonderful smile and sparkle, a mixed pathos and
archness which seldom failed of its momentary effect, even upon those
who most rebelled against it. Poor little Cis, a sturdy girl of twelve
or thirteen, playing at ball with little Ned on the terrace, and coming
with tardy steps to her daily task of spinning, had little of the
princess about her; and yet when she sat down, and the management of
distaff and thread threw her shoulders back, there was something in the
poise of her small head and the gesture of her hand that forcibly
recalled the Queen. Moreover, all the boys around were at her beck and
call, not only Humfrey and poor Antony Babington, but Cavendishes,
Pierrepoints, all the young pages and grandsons who dwelt at castle or
lodge, and attended Master Sniggius's school. Nay, the dominie
himself, though owning that Mistress Cicely promoted idleness and
inattention among his pupils, had actually volunteered to come down to
Bridgefield twice a week himself to prevent her from forgetting her
Lilly's grammar and her Caesar's Commentaries, an attention with which
this young lady would willingly have dispensed.

Stewart, Lorraine, Hepburn, the blood of all combined was a perilous
inheritance, and good Susan Talbot's instinct was that the young girl
whom she loved truly like her own daughter would need all the more
careful and tender watchfulness and training to overcome any tendencies
that might descend to her. Pity increased her affection, and even
while in ordinary household life it was easy to forget who and what the
girl really was, yet Cis was conscious that she was admitted to the
intimacy and privileges of an elder daughter, and made a companion and
friend, while her contemporaries at the Manor-house were treated as
children, and rated roundly, their fingers tapped with fans, their
shoulders even whipped, whenever they transgressed. Cis did indeed
live under equal restraint, but it was the wise and gentle restraint of
firm influence and constant watchfulness, which took from her the wish
to resist.





Next: Unquiet

Previous: The Blast Of The Whistle



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